Enrollment at the 33 publicly supported colleges and universities in Arkansas is 170,056 this fall, according to the head count that is traditionally taken on the 11th day of classes.
The total is slightly down from last year, mainly because of a drop in the number of students attending Arkansas’ two-year colleges. Enrollment at the 22 two-year colleges fell 6 percent, from almost 60,000 to about 56,000.
The number of students enrolled in four-year universities rose from 97,365 to 97,725, which is an increase of 0.4 percent.
In all, enrollment at Arkansas’ institutions of higher education fell 2 percent from the fall semester of 2012 to that of 2013.
Higher education officials say it’s too early to be certain about the reasons for the decline, but they have a couple of theories. One is that the economy is improving slightly, therefore more young people are working rather than going to college. Enrollment tends to increase when jobs get scarce. The enrollment statistics show that the fewer students are taking more hours.
Another possibility is that changes in federal laws have made it harder to qualify for financial aid such as a Pell grants and loans, so fewer students can afford tuition and textbooks.
Arkansas Tech at Russellville had the highest percentage gain. Its enrollment went up 4 percent, to 11,385. Enrollment at the University of Central Arkansas at Conway went up 3.8 percent to 11,534 and at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville it went up 3.3 percent to 25,341. Southern Arkansas University at Magnolia had an increase in enrollment of 2.2 percent, to 3,404.
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff had a 7.5 percent decline in enrollment, to 2,615, while Henderson State University at Arkadelphia had a decline of 5 percent, to 3,583.
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock also had a decrease in enrollment, of 3.6 percent to 12,403. Arkansas State University at Jonesboro had a decrease of 2.4 percent, to 13,538. The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith saw enrollment drop by 2.4 percent, to 7,158 and enrollment at the University of Arkansas at Monticello fell 1.2 percent to 3,897.
A few two-year colleges had increases in enrollment, led by College of the Ouachitas at Malvern, which had a 6.1 percent increase to 1,498.
Three colleges associated with the University of Arkansas system had increases. They are Phillips Community College, with campuses at DeWitt, Stuttgart and Helena-West Helena, which had an increase of 3 percent, to 2,039; Cossatot Community College, which saw enrollment go up 2.6 percent to 1,575; and the Community College at Morrilton, which had an increase of five students, bringing its total enrollment to 2,144.
ASU – Mountain Home also had an increase of 2.3 percent, to 1,446, and ASU-Newport grew by 1 percent, to 2,064.
The state Higher Education Department estimates that 35,500 to 37,500 students will receive an Academic Challenge Scholarship this year, compared to almost 33,000 last year. The value of this year’s scholarships will be from $113 million to $117 million, compared to about $133 million last year.
Revenue for the scholarships comes from the state lottery. Ticket sales have slumped, so amounts were restructured this year to ensure the long-term financial health of the Academic Challenge Scholarship Program.